The Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA) has made a revelation which is so shocking as to make every Sri Lankan sit up and take notice. Nearly 40 per cent of Sri Lanka`s national budget goes down the gurgler because of waste and corruption! Worse, none of the political parties have responded to the OPA`s request for an opportunity to discuss ways and means of minimising the twin evils taking their toll on the ailing economy and social well-being.
The OPA deserves public plaudits for the progressive initiative. That is a step in the right direction. But, by exhorting politicians to support its effort to battle bribery and corruption, the OPA is only pouring water on a duck`s back. Nay, it is tantamount to an attempt to dissuade a drift of swine from relishing muck.
Every political party in this country is a Tammany, where unscrupulous elements in the garb of people`s representatives line their pockets with public funds. They are perennially on the look out for a crooked deal and prepared to stoop to any level, if the right price is quoted. It is their insatiable avarice that has cost the country most of its national assets. They have plundered state institutions and reduced them to empty shells. State enterprises such as gas have gone for a song. The country can no longer boast of a national carrier. Leaders who claimed to have lived off their friends during their self-exile and made a show of their bank overdrafts as proof of their honesty before assuming political office are now in a position to have right royal weddings for their progeny. Palatial houses on the Nile are also being spoken of. Children of some leaders with very humble origins are now playing Santa showering as they do goodies on their electorates by way of political bribes. We also have a political windbag, who used to sleep at his party head office when he entered politics, boasting that he has bought a luxury house in Colombo 07 and built another in cooler climes, after a little over ten years in office. All politicians, save a handful, have a history which stinks to high heavens. So, it is natural that they haven`t answered the OPA`s call.
Besides corruption, politicians` penchant for waste is monumental. Most of the ministers move about in vehicles on lease, which cost the state coffers over Rs. 150,000 each per month. They are dissipating millions to boost their egos. Not even a small culvert in a far flung area gets opened without a ceremony, for which ministers go all the way from Colombo. They are more abroad than here. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who claims to be a villager from Giruvapattuwa, ran to the airport the moment Sri Lanka qualified for the World Cup finals a few moons ago to be in Barbados in time for the crucial match ? with a planeload of people. The lesser minions have purchased Jaguars and Porsches.
If corruption and waste in the public sector could be curtailed, the country`s economy would inexorably gain a turbo boost. But, corruption is not a phenomenon confined to that sector. The private sector?or the Engine of Growth?at times functions as the Engine of Corruption as well. Top guns of the private sector have earned notoriety for corrupt dealings with politicians. It is they who have acquired state properties by greasing the palms of top politicians with slush funds. In battling corruption, it is imperative that the kibosh be put on this kind of symbiotic relationship.
Even some of the holier-than-thou professionals have succumbed to the lure of filthy lucre, letting professional ethics fall by the wayside. Doctors have no qualms about having most of, if not all, their professional events sponsored by pharmaceutical companies hell bent on exploiting the sick. There is, it is said, nothing called a free lunch and doctors are under obligation to prescribe branded drugs manufactured by their sponsors as a quid pro quo. Corrupt activities involving engineers and contractors are also public knowledge. The rot of bribery and corruption has spared no profession in this country. Corruption has been likened by writers like Beaumont and Fletcher to `a tree whose branches are of an immeasurable length spreading everywhere`. So, it behoves the OPA with various professional bodies within its ranks to turn the searchlight inward.
The media has also come under criticism over bribery and corruption. Once a minister claimed that some journalists could be bought for a bottle of arrack. Some are accused of being in the pay of local and foreign organisations. There has been a call from some quarters that journalists be probed. That call must be heeded. Let each and every journalist be probed, if needs be, and anyone who resists investigations be branded a rogue. The watchdogs must be watched and guards guarded!
The OPA says the USAID has spent as much as $ 2.5 million on preparing the National Anti-Corruption Action Plan, presented to the government recently. We are flabbergasted! How on earth could a report cost so much? All the details about the report? the organisations and individuals involved in its preparation, the amounts they were paid etc.?must be made public in keeping with the principle of transparency.
The deteriorating situation reminds us of Alexander Pope, who said:
At length corruption, like a general flood
(So long by watchful ministers withstood),
Shall deluge all and avarice, creeping on,
Spread like a low-born mist, and blot the sun.
Let no stone be left unturned and none spared in the on-going campaign against bribery and corruption.